Glenn Youngkin thought he was talking to two fellow Republicans at a campaign stop last June when he laid out what he really wanted to do about abortion. Convinced he was talking to anti-abortion voters, the Republican pick for Virginia governor started laying out ideas that he said he couldn’t campaign on for fear of alienating independent voters.
As two anti-abortion voters at the event pressed him on why his campaign wasn’t taking a stronger stance against abortion, Youngkin praised their ideas for anti-abortion measures like a heartbeat bill and defunding Planned Parenthood as “on the right track.”
“Can we take it to the abortionists, though?” an unidentified man asked Youngkin.
“Yeah, I’m gonna be really honest with you, the short answer is in this campaign, I can’t,” Youngkin said. “When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense.”
But the man and Youngkin’s interlocutor weren’t really Republicans, a subterfuge that became clear a few weeks later when hidden camera footage of his remarks aired on MSNBC. Youngkin’s Democratic opponent, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, quickly hammered Youngkin over the video, claiming his views on abortion were out of step with voters in the purple state.
The Youngkin video and many others like it was the creation of Democratic operative Lauren Windsor, who has emerged over the past year as a lurking menace to Republican officials who think they’re just chatting with their ideological compatriots. By posing at public events as fervent conservative activists, Windsor and her compatriots at her YouTube channel, “The Undercurrent,” have recorded a number of Republican politicians in unguarded moments.
Windsor has caught Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) admitting there was “nothing obviously skewed” about the 2020 election in his home state, and Republican state legislators in Texas conceding their voting bills were intended to cement Republican power.
Windsor’s videos represent a new use on the left of hidden-camera footage, long the domain of right-wing activists. Windsor stepped up her use of hidden cameras after a run-in with the right’s most prominent undercover sting artist: James O’Keefe.
In 2016, Windsor was an associate at Democratic consulting firm Democracy Partners when an operative working for O’Keefe allegedly became an intern at the group by using a fake name and resume. Project Veritas Action, a sister wing of O’Keefe’s main Project Veritas group, later released videos that claimed to portray Democracy Partners founder Robert Creamer and a contractor discussing unsavory or illegal campaign tactics. The videos scrambled Democracy Partners’ election efforts and prompted Creamer to “step back” from 2016 campaign work.
In response, Windsor launched “Project Veritas Exposed,” an online dossier with pictures of known O’Keefe operatives and associates. Liberal groups, fearful that they’ve been infiltrated by someone working for O’Keefe, can scour the database and compare job applicants against pictures on the site.
In 2017, Creamer and Democracy Partners sued O’Keefe and Project Veritas over the alleged infiltration. The case is set to go to trial this December. Windsor, now a partner at Democracy Partners, has herself been deposed in the case. In a video released by Project Veritas, defense lawyers asked her about Creamer’s 2006 conviction on bank and tax charges and an incident where Windsor confronted the O’Keefe operative who allegedly infiltrated Democracy Partners.
While Windsor has operated The Undercurrent as an online video outlet since 2012, she decided to start using more undercover video last year because of the Republican embrace of the baseless idea that Joe Biden stole the election.
“I think there’s just been an unprecedented ongoing threat to our democracy that undercover work helps to expose real intentions and motivations that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise capture,” Windsor told The Daily Beast. “I think that threat merits doing that methodology more frequently.”
In December, Windsor scored one of her first major hidden-camera victories when she recorded then-Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) suggesting that he would oppose certifying the presidential election results in the Senate. The video was one of the first indications of a legislative Republican groundswell against acknowledging Donald Trump’s defeat that would ultimately culminate in the Jan. 6 riot.
“She smiles and acts like a friend, and they blurt out all this bullshit to her,” said Democratic consultant Mike Lux, another Democracy Partners co-founder.
While O’Keefe and his own hidden-camera videos are the most obvious analogues to Windsor’s own undercover videos, Windsor and her allies insist there’s no comparing Windsor’s methods with Project Veritas.
Windsor declined to discuss the technical details of how she produces her videos, including how many people work with her. But she insists that her own tactics — posing as a Republican at public events — aren’t akin to O’Keefe’s efforts, which can involve constructing entire fake personas and, in the case of Democracy Partners, alleged fake names and resumes.
Windsor also dinged O’Keefe’s operation for its sting on political staffers, including low-ranking ones, rather than focusing on politicians themselves.
“I’ve seen very few videos where he’s actually talked to an elected [official] directly,” Windsor said. “He has to settle with catching a staffer.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Creamer compared O’Keefe’s alleged infiltration of Democratic groups using fake resumes and names to political spying operations like the Watergate bugging.
“She’s not about infiltrating, she’s not about spying,” Creamer said. “She’s about simply letting people tell you what they believe.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Project Veritas disagreed.
“Lauren Windsor has made her name by engaging in the very style of undercover journalism she decries as being a bridge too far when done by others,” Project Veritas said in a statement. “Unfortunately, those partisan patrons of Windsor’s undercover journalism are unable to objectively view and accept Windsor’s tactics for what they are, instead engaging in mental gymnastics to make her work palatable to their narrative.”
Not all of Windsor’s activism takes place undercover. In July, Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) attempted to hold a press conference casting imprisoned Jan. 6 riot suspects as political prisoners, but were stymied when a protester began blowing a whistle. As Gaetz and Greene attempted to flee the scene, Windsor added to the shambolic scene by repeatedly shouting at Gaetz, who is allegedly the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had sex with a teenager, to ask whether he was a pedophile.
“My being there and asking him if he was a pedophile was to really key in on the ridiculousness of the situation in the first place,” Windsor said.